Written on 21-Jul-2015
Michelle Mellor, director of Chefs Jobs UK, shares her thoughts and worries about the industry ….
Specialising in interim chef employment for the last 25 years has been the perfect job. I maintain my love of the industry by supporting chefs and managers who need help. But, as a former chef, and being at the receiving end of what chefs and clients need, I see a very worrying side of our industry too.
“Where are all the chefs going?” is a question constantly asked by our clients – and in the last 18 months it has become a real issue.
But, to be able to answer my clients, firstly we have to ask ourselves in the hospitality industry a simple question: What changes have to be made to ensure new talent who join can forge a rewarding and fulfilling long time career in the kitchens of the future?
Let’s take a typical role in a good gastro pub, rosette restaurant or a busy hotel with conference and banqueting, where chances are the sous chef will, in many cases, be working 60 hours minimum a week, split into shifts over five or six days, on a typical £25K salary per annum.
If you calculate this in real terms, the chef is working for £8.00 per hour, often over a split shift so their chances of seeing their family and partner are slim. They will typically be leaving at 8am and returning home just after 10pm. If they are lucky enough to live nearby they will be able to pop home for a couple of hours or maybe do the school run. If not, their relationships will be one akin to ships passing in the night!
Chefs are incredibly skilled professionals who are often working in highly pressured environments, so they cannot afford to have a bad day. At sous chef level, they will be expected to run their own section, mentor and train the younger brigade, order stock, plan menus, look after the operation on the head chef’s days off and perform consistently, executing perfection whilst on their feet all day in a hot, busy, kitchen.
Chefs are people pleasers and creative. With their reputation on the line, they cannot afford to get it wrong. Employers must cherish them. Treat them with respect. Give them a real work life balance. Recognise their contribution to success and pay them for every hour they work.
The hospitality industry is growing at a rate of knots, so we have to ensure that chefs entering the industry are embarking on a career, just like any other demanding profession. A job with straight shifts, decent hours, flexibility to job share, two days off a week and an appreciation of the skills and efforts they bring to a business. They are in demand. They can get a job anywhere – especially if they feel they are going to be better appreciated and
looked after by another employer.
Every profession knows the importance of having strong role models for junior staff to aspire to. So, what messages does the industry send out to young people who are keen to enter the profession, when they look further up the career ladder at the sous chef – who’s totally burned out and disillusioned?
Apprenticeships are a great entry in, but the percentage of students continuing with a career as full-time chef is very low. Is it any wonder? Whilst we all realise that the number of Michelin Star restaurants across the whole industry is a very small proportion of the total, the growth of the celebrity chef and the national interest in these Michelin Star level operators is such an amazing platform for attracting people into the sector.
This level of interest is so very unique to the industry and chef careers in particular. To have such high-profile ambassadors championing this exciting and dynamic profession is, I am sure, the envy of many sectors.
Chefs should be entering the profession in their droves, confident they will have a rewarding career for life with a caring employer of choice, across every type of hospitality sector.
The days of working 60/70 hours in split shifts over a six day week, on an annual salary, have to go. Employers must be different. They need to embrace better working methods, pay structures and hours to attract and retain these highly skilled professionals.
The sooner this happens, the better. By adopting this approach, more chefs will be retained,and they will feel valued and appreciated. More importantly, a normal working environment will be created for recruiting and then retaining the creative talent this dynamic and exciting industry of ours needs for the future.
Chefs need to be nurtured and appreciated. But when the harsh reality is the opposite of that, what incentive do they have to stay?
We have to change!